colorful salad

21 Genius Salad Toppings for Exceptional Flavor

Cameron Hooper Nutrition

Eating a salad every day is one of the easiest ways to kick ass in life.

Think I’m kidding?

Far from it.

A well-balanced salad delivers a burst of nutrients, antioxidants, and inflammation-busting compounds. All of which can help your mind and body perform at an optimal level. It gives your body the fuel it needs to thrive.

But there’s a problem… most salads are boring, contain few nutrients, and are downright disgusting.

This is why people either don’t bother eating salad or simply force it down their throat while resisting the urge to gag.

The good news is, with a bit of creativity and nutrition know-how, salads can become delicious and incredibly nutritious.

This list of simple salad toppings and upgrades will help you make a salad you can’t stop eating—no matter what diet you’re on.

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1. Glazed Pecans

Glazed pecans as a healthy salad topping

The reason why salads often taste bland is because they‘re monotone in flavor. This is why glazed pecans are perfect.

They provide a nice punch of salty, crunchy, fatty, and sweet flavor. Because they hit so many flavor notes, glazed pecans are one of my favorite ways to bring a dull salad to life.

You can either make it yourself or pick some up at the store. Just make sure they aren’t made with too much sugar, or you’ll defeat the whole purpose of eating a salad.

2. Salty & Crunchy Toppings

Roasted Chick Peas for a salty salad topping

When you experiment with different salad toppings, you’ll come to find that crunchy and salty foods can completely transform a salad.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Roasted Chickpeas: Flavorful, packed with protein, and you can buy a variety of spice combinations from most stores.
  • Granola: While most people assume granola is reserved for yogurt or cereals, it also makes a great salad topping. Here’s an example recipe if you can’t picture it working.  
  • Plantain Chips: Unlike regular chips, plantain chips are a bit thicker. Making them perfect for salads.
  • Mary’s Gluten-Free Super Seed Crackers: Delicious, crunchy, salty, and a nice boost of protein thanks to the seeds. These are one of my favorite salad toppers.

Most of these salad toppers I use are way cheaper if you get them through Thrive Market. Even compared to your local grocery store. It’s literally my favorite place to get healthy food–especially since I’m on a budget.

Lucky for you I was able to get a discount for my readers:

Get 20% off your first 3 orders at Thrive Market (click the link to grab the offer before it expires)

3. Sea Salted Avocado Slices

salted avocado on a colorful salad

Avocados are an amazing source of healthy, unsaturated fat. Contrary to popular belief, quality sources of fat are an essential part of any healthy diet. Plus, the fat will help keep you feeling full for a longer period of time. As a result, avocados are one of my top go-to healthy salad toppings.

I typically add Himalayan or Celtic sea salt to my sliced avocados. It makes a huge difference in the flavor. If you don’t like how mushy avocados get in your salad, add the slices after you put dressing on.

4. Cassava Root Chips

A post shared by Plant Snacks (@plantsnacks) on

Maybe this should have gone under salty & crunchy toppings. But these cassava four chips are so good, they deserved their own spotlight. I take a handful of the vegan goat cheese chips, crumble them a bit, and top my salad off with them. They are completely grain free and dairy free which makes them perfect for a wide variety of diets.

The only downside is that these things taste too darn good! I have a hard time stopping myself from devouring an entire bag in a day.

Get the Cassava root chips on Thrive Market and get a FREE bag of organic breakfast blend coffee.

5. Organic Berries or Fruit

fresh berries on salad

Adding fruits or berries can help sweeten up a salad, which adds another dynamic of flavor. Fruit also deliver a wide variety of antioxidants which can protect your body from inflammation and disease.

Here are the fruit I most often use:

  • Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, bilberries
  • Clementines & blood orange (great with Thai-inspired salads)
  • Pomegranate seeds (one of my favorites!)
  • Dried cranberries; watch out for the sugar content in these
  • Sliced Apple or Pear

Just make sure you don’t go overboard. Too much sugar, even when it’s from fruit, can cause you to pack on the pounds. Berries, however, are significantly lower in their sugar content. So if you’re watching your sugar levels or looking to slim down, berries are a better option than most fruit.

6. Vegan Parmesan Cheese

If you can’t have dairy, this one is lovely. It closely resembles parmesan cheese, without having any dairy. I have a jar of this stuff lying around at all times since it adds a nice touch to so many meals, including salad.

To make vegan parmesan cheese simply combine:

  • ¾ cup raw cashews
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • ½ tsp. organic garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. onion powder
  • ½ tsp. Himalayan salt

Pulse in a ninja blender (works much better in my opinion) or food processor and it’s done!

7. Fresh Herbs

fresh herbs to upgrade a salad

Minced fresh herbs bring a nice bright flavor to your salad. In fact, many higher end restaurants will use fresh herbs in their salad options to provide extra flavor.

Mint, cilantro, basil, chives, parsley, and dill are the most popular choices. It’s a bit of challenge knowing which herb to use when. This guide on Plated will tell you which herbs pair best with common salad ingredients.

8. Jicama With Lemon

jicama slices on a cutting board

You may not have heard of this one. Jicama is a tasty and crispy root vegetable that’s a rich source of inulin–an important compound for healthy gut bacteria. Jicama tastes best with a bit of lemon juice sprinkled over it.

It’s often found in the produce section of grocery stores with the other root vegetables. Some stores even offer it pre-sliced.

9. Hummus

A great source of healthy fat and protein. Anytime I have a Mediterranean-inspired salad, I love adding a big dollop of garlic hummus.

But if you have a job where you’re worried about scaring people away with your garlic breath, there’s plenty of other hummus flavors that will also do the trick.

If you’re an overachiever, biohacker, or nutrition nerd, you can take this one step further. Make your own hummus with soaked and sprouted chickpeas. Your digestive system has a MUCH easier time digesting and absorbing the nutrients from soaked and sprouted chickpeas.

10. Spiced Legumes

Kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, peas, and aduki beans are another great way to boost the protein content of your salads. Plus, adding them will help you feel full long after eating a salad.

It certainly beats getting famished 30 minutes after chewing on some lettuce and celery.

If you add beans to your salad though, I highly recommend that you soak them for 24 hours so you don’t get indigestion or gas. For extra flavor, you can spice them up with things like garlic, cumin, and turmeric followed by a quick saute. Then the beans can be stored and used on your salads for the rest of the week.

11. Roasted Veggies

roasted assorted vegetables

Roasted vegetables bring huge flavor to otherwise bland vegetables. Once I discovered how amazing roasted veggies taste, it became my go-to way to cook vegetables. Steaming is incredibly bland in comparison.

To roast your veggies, preheat the oven to around 400 F, line a roasting pan with some parchment paper, coat your cut veggies in a high-quality olive oil or ghee with spices, and roast until they are ever so slightly charred.

Some of the best roasted vegetables on salad are…

  • Asparagus (my favorite)
  • Brussels sprouts (they taste way different roasted, so give them a try! The smaller they are the better they taste.)
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet Potato
  • Beets
  • Broccoli

Experiment with different spice combos to find what you like the best. I love adding nutritional yeast or the vegan parm to my roasted vegetables. There are plenty of recipes out there if you need ideas.

12. Nuts & Seeds

roasted almonds in a cup

Nuts and seeds are another great way to boost the flavor and nutrition of your salad. They’re packed with protein, healthy fats, and a variety of vitamins.

Much like beans though, they should be soaked and then roasted for optimal nutrition.

Here are some of my favorite nuts and seeds for salad toppings:

  • Pumpkin seeds or pepitas
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Almond slivers
  • Roasted cashews crumbled (I’m a big fan of curried cashews)
  • Crushed hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts

There are plenty of options here. But I would not suggest using peanuts since they can increase inflammation and they are often contaminated with a toxic byproduct of mold called mycotoxins.

Get 20% off any bag of nuts at Thrive Market

13.  Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Sun-dried tomatoes add a surprising depth of flavor to salads. They’re a little tangy and deliciously savory.

Just make sure you get them organic since tomatoes typically have a high amount of pesticides and herbicides on them.

14. Quinoa

A small scoop of quinoa mixed into a salad can make a big difference. Since quinoa is a source of carbs, it gives your taste buds the sense you’re not just eating empty calories. Which makes a big difference when you eat a lot of salad.

Just be mindful of using too much quinoa. If you use 80% quinoa and 20% vegetables, you’re missing the point here.

15. Capers

Capers are one of those things I never expected to be a good salad topper. It sounds weird, right? But man was I wrong.

Capers provide a nice boost of salty goodness to your salads. Since salads typically have very low amounts of salt (unless you use store-bought salad dressing), capers add that much needed dynamic of flavor to the mix.

16. Garlic Stuffed Olives

black and green olives for salad

While they’re not the cheapest thing in the supermarket, garlic stuffed olives are one of my favorite “treats” to add on top of a salad. If you love olives already on salad, these will take it to the next level.

17. Water Chestnuts

Sometimes salad needs an extra crunch. Water chestnuts are the kings of crunch and crisp. So if you find yourself looking for that texture, try adding some chopped water chestnuts to your salad.

18. Mushrooms

mushrooms for salad

Mushrooms are loaded with beneficial compounds that help fight cancer and balance your immune system. This is why I love adding fresh or cooked mushrooms to my salads.

Plus, when mushrooms are cooked, they provide what’s called umami flavor. Which is the flavor you associate with proteins like beef, fish, and chicken. This is why so many vegan meat substitutes use mushrooms like portobello.

19. Peapod Puffs

Peapod puffs taste a bit like cheese puffs, but healthier. Their salty taste and puffy texture make them a perfect salad topping. Peapod puffs and cassava flour crisps are two of my favorite salad “hacks” to elevate boring salads.

Just make sure you add the puffs after pouring the salad dressing. If you add the salad dressing last, the puffs can get soggy and just plain nasty.

20. Try a New Protein

salmon for a protein on salad

No salad is complete without a source of protein. The problem is, most people get stuck in a rut. They forget that there are other sources of protein beyond chicken, beans, and falafels.

Here’s a list of my favorite options:

  • Grass-fed steak tips
  • Goat Cheese (goat cheese is more easily digested compared to standard dairy)
  • Nuts, seeds, and spiced legumes (beans)
  • Wild Salmon Jerky or Lox (brined salmon)
  • Taco Seasoned Turkey (great with avocado)
  • Nitrate-free bacon bits (make your own)

21. Don’t Underestimate Your Salad Dressing

spinach salad

A good salad dressing can make or break a salad. Unfortunately, most dressings you’ll find in the store are loaded with harmful ingredients or just taste bad.

Luckily, there’s a company called Thrive Market that carefully selects only the healthiest foods and products. So they have a great selection of salad dressings that are both healthy (unless you get ranch of course) and tasty.

I was able to get a 20% off deal for my readers. You can redeem the discount here.

If you’re the motivated type, you can make your own dressing in bulk. That way you’ll have enough for several weeks. Simply search “healthy salad dressing” on Pinterest and you will have plenty of ideas if need be.

What to Do When You’re Too Busy to Eat Salad

Eating a salad every day is one of the best ways to give your body the nutrients it needs to thrive. But we live a busy life. So eating a salad every day isn’t always practical.

I have this issue too. Which is why I consume green juice powder on the days I don’t end up eating salad. It helps fill any nutritional gaps I get from not eating the way I should. This is especially handy when traveling.

The green juice powder I use contains over 50 different superfoods, is all organic, and tastes pretty darn good (especially in a smoothie). As an added bonus, it provides a nice boost of energy since it’s packed with so many nutrients.